The Spark Healthcare Report: Philadelphia Taxi Drivers Sign up For Affordable Healthcare 


March 14, 2014 | Originally posted on Media Mobilizing Project’s Blog

The deadline for signing up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is coming up on March 31st. The Unified Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania is one of many groups working to sign members up for healthcare coverage before the deadline passes. Last week, members of MMP’s Movement Media Fellows program interviewed taxi workers and their families as they signed up for coverage. Their stories will be part of an upcoming episode of MMP’s spring tv show season of The Spark: stories that change our times and will air on PhillyCAM and online this May.  Below is a report from Rugiatu Conteh, a member of The Spark’s healthcare episode crew:

In prepping for The Spark’s healthcare episode, the healthcare crew went on location to speak with taxi workers signing up for healthcare plans This initiative was sponsored by the Unified Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania (UTWA), an organization dedicated to promoting the civil and human rights of low-income taxi workers and a long-time partner of Media Mobilizing Project. We wanted to see how UTWA is supporting taxi drivers by assisting them in signing up for coverage, and to hear about the process firsthand from drivers and their families. At first, many showed resistance to being interviewed on camera. But, after probing and firm encouragement from Patrick Anamah, the Vice President of UTWA, many individuals shared their stories with us.

As they waited for a turn to go through the registration process, many taxi drivers explained their urgent need for healthcare coverage. In addition to working long hours with very low pay, most drivers are uninsured and many face serious health problems. Driving a cab is also the seventh-lowest-paid dangerous job in the United States. A recent Philadelphia Weekly article details these and other problems that cab drivers face.

Our interviewees explained that drivers cannot afford health insurance for themselves and their families, and that they do not have access to worker’s compensation. Patrick told us that many uninsured drivers associated with UTWA face severe health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure and job-related health issues such as muscle and back pain. The previous week, members of UTWA had attended a funeral of an uninsured cab driver who passed away due to serious health problems.

We interviewed Michelln, a healthcare worker who has been involved with UTWA’s organizing for over a year. She has health coverage through her job, but her uninsured husband has been driving a taxi four years. Last year, her husband was involved in a rear-end car accident. He went through six months of therapy, but he still experiences neck and lower back pain.

What happens to uninsured drivers if they get sick? Abeerahman, a taxi driver of six years said he prays that he doesn’t get sick, but if he does, he “goes to the CVS and tries to get something”. Musa, who has been driving for seven years, told us he goes to the emergency room, and pays for the visit out-of-pocket.

Many drivers told us they were happy with the health coverage they were able to sign up for. One driver, who will pay sixty-five dollars a month for insurance told us, “the price, it is very, very, good for me. This will protect me and my wife.” Yaya described the Affordable Healthcare Act as “the sunlight in the darkness”.

With sunlight comes some sort of shadow, even if it is a little. Two drivers talked about complications with using the website. One driver had to enroll and re-enroll due to errors and unsubmitted paperwork. Michelln mentioned that on two different occasions, she was on the phone for two hours before she could speak with a customer representative. She still remained optimistic, saying, “When you have a system that’s so large, the first time you roll it out, you expect something. [I] Wish there were less glitches.”

We’ve gathered a great deal of useful information and footage, which you will get the opportunity to see in The Spark’s healthcare episode airing this May on Philadelphia Community Access Media. We are now moving on to our next assignment! Make sure you join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag, #Sparkhealthcare. Let us know about your experiences signing up for healthcare, and what questions you would like for us to address in the episode. Until next time!

Click here to watch The Spark’s full Healthcare Episode.


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